There’s both an opportunity and a threat for HR in the wake of the global financial crisis, according to a major new study published today by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. The first report of the CIPD’s Next Generation HR project recognises a far greater focus amongst senior business leaders on genuinely sustainable performance, and identifies examples of the best HR functions seizing the opportunities this focus offers the profession. However, the CIPD is warning that more needs to be done to ensure “the rest of HR catches up with the best of HR”.

The report finds that individual examples of leading edge practice are outstripping leading edge thinking. According to the CIPD, this makes it essential that a new, simple language and a different way of defining and thinking about the future direction of the profession is quickly developed. The Next Generation project aims to play a leading role in filling this gap.

The report identifies opportunities for HR to:

• Put true, game-changing insight at the heart of its work. Introducing the concept of ‘organisational insight’ – the combination of real business ‘savvy’ and a deep appreciation of the people, political and cultural factors that determine ‘what really goes on around here’ – the report unpicks the capacity of HR to offer unique solutions to the challenges of building organisations that last.
• Focus on the underlying fundamentals that together enhance the long-term, sustainable performance of organisations. The report defines HR functions that are already acting in this way as building long-term organisational equity in much the same way as marketing has effectively focused on building brand equity.
• Engage in an active commentary on the unintended consequences of decisions or behaviour that could fatally undermine the long-term health of organisations. This stewardship role is very different from the more familiar ‘HR as corporate policeman’ role, informed as it is by deep organisational insight and delivered with the assured lightness of touch that only confident, trusted and respected professionals can deliver.

CIPD Chief Executive Jackie Orme said:
“The world has changed, and business is changing too. Those changes play to the strengths of the best of HR, as our research has found. But if the rest of HR doesn’t catch up with the best of HR, the profession will get left behind. We’ve seen glimpses of the future in our work. Our determination is to play a leading role in ensuring this emergent next generation practice contributes to a swift evolution of HR from its service driven and process owning heritage to the provider of relevant and timely insight that adds real future value to organisations.

“In publishing this first report, and in our ongoing work on the Next Generation HR project, we’re building a movement for change in HR. We’ll be taking our findings on the road, reaching out to CEOs and HR leaders to stimulate debate. We want to work with HR functions to help them become truly insight driven, and to support the development of the next generation of HR talent to be able to step up to the plate. The danger for HR is that if it does not step up with sufficient urgency or credibility, it will be left behind as CEOs turn elsewhere for the solutions to the challenges we’ve identified.”

Lee Sears, Director at Bridge, who has led the research for the CIPD, added:
“Some HR functions are consistently bringing the clarity and timely and impactful solutions that will enable their organisations to thrive. This unique ‘organisation insight’ is founded on an intimate understanding of the business drivers, allied to a sophisticated appreciation of how human and organisational issues uniquely combine to deliver short and long-term performance.

“We’ve also seen some HR functions investing heavily in building organisations that are genuinely fit for the future, innovating in the building of future fit leaders, and developing authentic and adaptable cultures.

“However, it would appear that relatively few HR leaders have taken a sufficient step back and asked enough questions about how HR needs to evolve in light of the seismic challenges organisations face, particularly following the global financial crisis. Our contention is that until HR becomes a truly insight driven function, it will be failing to consistently add the unique value that our research shows is very much within its reach, and is already being delivered by HR trailblazers.”

The report builds on some clear starting hypotheses to ask:
• What does HR need to do to deliver truly future-proof organisations?
• How can HR consistently adopt a truly insight driven approach, in place of an overly process or service-driven approach?
• What does an insight driven approach mean for future HR career paths?
• What does this increasingly sophisticated approach mean for HR leadership?
• How do we distribute HR thought and practice leadership beyond a small number of highly influential senior players?